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Volume 9, Issue 1: Anvil

Post-Industrial Agrarians

Douglas Wilson

Many mental pictures look quite fine from a distance, especially through a romantic haze, but a closer inspection reveals more than a few problems. For example, when we consider our nostalgic tendency to airbrush our images of the pre-industrial past, we should begin to suspect ourselves. A snow-covered cottage graces the front of a Christmas card quite well, but not indicated is the absence of indoor plumbing, adequate lighting, sanitary food storage, safety in child-bearing, and so on, ad quitealonglistem.

A lot of that was changed when we staggered into the modern world, and there is no question that when it comes to various creature comforts we are all doing very well, thank you. Three cheers for central heating, antibiotics, and all that. Nevertheless, these considerable perks of modernity had quite a price tag attached, and for many years agrarian thinkers--men like Weaver and Lytle--warned us about the payments pending. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? Against the iron demands of modernity, agrarianism calls for us to live close to the land, close to family, close to our souls.
Initially, despite the personal comforts, the logic of industrialization at the broader cultural level was all in the direction of macro-ugliness--urbanization, pollution, fast-lane mindlessness, and so on. As Joe South responded to it a number of years ago, "Don't it make you want to go home?"
For those who value agrarian values, as we at Credenda most certainly do, industrialization has usually been written off as an unmitigated bummer--a cultural cancer which has devoured the beautiful and destroyed the lovely.
But a more optimistic view is possible; consider the postmill possibility that industrialization was simply several centuries of cultural acne as we were working our way up through societal adolesence.
The agrarian vision is coming back into its own, but not as a reactionary return to the status quo ante. Rather, the agrarian revival is the next step after technopoly, and is only possible because of the success of industrialization. The massive decentralization we see happening all around us is the child of the electronics revolution. Don't get us wrong--we do not think that the silicon chip can remove original sin. Nor do we think it can teach our children, or write our books. But in the providence of God, the pride of modernity, the centralized state, is going the way of the trilobite. In its idolatrous pride, industrialism mistook its own trajectory, and thought to fly forever. But in the emergence of a decentralized society, one creature is replacing another. As we sit at an electronic keyboard, we refuse to worship the newborn, and say good riddance to the departing.
For contemporary agrarian thinkers, the possibilities are marvelous. But this is more than a resurgence of agrarianism; it is industrial-strength agrarianism.


 

The Comming Computer Rebellion

By Douglas Jones

Christian philosophers in the high middle ages pulled off an amazing coup against pagan Greek thought. And this Christian revolution set a precedent for the computer rebellion coming a hundred years from now.

Up to the 1200's, the dictator of philosophy, Plato, held a firm grip on both pagan and Christian thought. Up through those years, Christian thinkers had made some admirable moves to remove Plato's stubborn fingers, but we only heard the loud snap occurring after the 1200's. By then, Christians better realized the antithesis between Christ and Plato.
These Christian philosophers gloried in two Christian truths which were in direct conflict with Platonic thought, namely, the beauty of created matter and the reality of individuals. Platonic (and Aristotelian) thought had long opposed both these truths, and instead hyperventilated over an abstract world of perfect spiritual ideas. Matter was inferior and almost unreal, and individuals were merely bundles of universals. The medieval revolution reversed this.
In our day, some cyberstuds are hyperventilating about the revived Platonism of the computer world. They speak of the cyber world as "transcending the meat" and shedding "the ballast of materiality." Like the ancient pagans, they see matter as constricting their freedom. In their disgust for bodily reality, "they do not wish to settle for such a limited condition. They aspire to be angels, if not God," writes Bruce Mazlish of MIT. Similarly, John Barlow notes that the computers are "taking the material and making it immaterial: Now is the flesh made word."
Over the next hundred years, everyone--even laptop junkies like myself--will probably realize that computers only increase our stupidity, ruin our creativity, further splinter our communities, and slow us down. Cyberhype will be passe,and Microsoft will fall to yawns.
At the same time, Christians, like our medieval forefathers, will mature in our appreciation of the material world. While cyber-messiahs soar out into Platonic virtuality, Christians can continue to rule the world by hugging big-cheeked children, shaking grandfather's firm grip, and kissing the unspeakable softness of our wives' necks.


 

A Rating System for Science

By Douglas Jones

Science sells. Neil Postman likes to tell stories about how he can get people to warm up to absurd ideas just by suggesting that some Joe Big University has produced research on the topic. Attaching "produced at Berkeley, Harvard, MIT" to a ridiculous argument immediately makes it cogent to many. That's part of life, but let's not pretend that it's rationality.

The odd thing is that science has such a ridiculous track record to serve as such a powerful veto-house of truth. If we think in terms of centuries and millennia, few other disciplines turn inside-out so flippantly and quickly as the natural sciences.
Nothing can take the puff out of the scientific chest more than a study of its history. Perhaps that's why it's so rare to find science departments requiring courses in the history of science. The history of science provides great strength to the inductive inference that, at any point in its history, that day's science will almost certainly be deemed false, if not laughable, within a century (often in much less time).
Theology, for example, has a much better track record. In a hundred years, when scientists nudge one another about the infantile science just prior to 2000, the councils of Nicea, Chalcedon, etc. will still stand. In 1974, social observer Wayne Booth quipped, "I read in the morning paper . . . that `rarely in history have [natural science] theorists questioned so fundamentally the percepts of their time' . . . . I am not surprised. But you could shock me into catatonia with the headline, `Majority of Experts at the Annual MLA Convention Deny Irony in Austen's Works.'"
If the history of science were a single person, we certainly wouldn't let that person drive heavy machinery or carry sharp objects. Nonetheless, he could serve some useful functions. And he might do some better than others. But to set him up as the premier standard and priest of rationality is a bit too much to ask.
We could begin to allow the history of science to curb scientific awe by imposing a rating system, like those used with movies and television. Any scientific claim that lasts longer than a millennium, we'll rate "GC" for "Getting Close." For claims that stand for five hundred years, we'll rate "KP," for "Kinda Probable;" for a century, "PF" for Probably False;" for fifty years, "ACF" for "Almost Certainly False;" for twenty years and less, "TLA," for "Treat Like Astrology."


 

Two Cheers for the Homosexual Gene

By Douglas Wilson

Scientists and researchers are scrambling like mad to find a genetic basis for homosexuality. A recent issue of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard indicates that some folks already believe they have found it.

In general, they are doing so because they believe their findings could be combined with an invisible ethical premise held by pert near everybody, which would then result in toleration, acceptance, and general bonhomie all round. That invisible premise is that a man cannot be blamed for what he is, and that to do so would be an irrational prejudice. If it can truly be said about any behavior that a man "cannot help it," then that man cannot really be condemned for what he does. "Natural" is good, or at least not bad.
Christians who know that homosexuality is flatly condemned by Scripture, and who thus know it can never be justified by man, may seek to hang on to this hidden premise. This would be done through denying that our busy researchers will ever find what they are looking for. A genetic basis for homosexuality would be rejected by such Christians as impossible a priori.
But what if they do find such a gene? And what if we come to realize that the research was not contaminated by the wishful thinking which gave birth to the investigation?
As Christians, we should think this through beforehand. Homosexuality is a sin because we find it prohibited in the Scriptures, not because we believe it is missing from our DNA. We find sodomy prohibited alongside a number of other sins which most definitely do have a genetic basis--e.g. heterosexual lust. While Paul does teach that homosexuality is "against nature," his point was not concerning the microbiology. If we were to find the medical reason why some people have a craving to eat dirt, this discovery would not have the effect of turning dirt into food. The pathology would be "natural" in one sense (i.e. it has a physical explanation), and unnatural in another more obvious sense. Paul's flat rejection of homosexuality as contrary to nature is in this latter sense.
We already know from Scripture that unregenerate man cannot help the sin he commits. This is precisely why he needs a Savior, and not some therapist who will help him get in touch with his gonads.
With the invisible premise, the findings of such research would show that homosexual behavior should be accepted and tolerated by us. Without that premise, the results of such research would simply add empirical confirmation to the teaching of Scripture, which we already knew to be true. Man is a slave to sin, he is dead in trespasses and sins, apart from God's sovereign grace he can't help it. "And no wonder. Look through this microscope here."
The Scriptures are not true because of what we see in the world. But the Scriptures are true, and we may expect to find that truth in the world we see. In no way will science ever demonstrate that Scripture was in error for rejecting sodomy as an abomination. But science may in the near future deliver us from the ethical maxims of Kant and all his cousins--inside the church and out.

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